Tags: MidPoint | Robert Francis | germanwings | french alps | crash | plane

Ex-NTSB Official: Oxygen Loss Possible in French Alps Crash

By    |   Tuesday, 24 March 2015 02:01 PM

A sudden loss of breathable air inside a German passenger jet carrying 150 people might explain reports that the aircraft dove almost 32,000 feet in under 10 minutes before crashing in the French Alps on Tuesday, a former National Transportation Safety Board official told Newsmax TV.

But nobody can be certain of that or any scenario until after the black box flight data recorders for the Airbus A320 craft operated by Germanwings, a budget subsidiary of Lufthansa, are retrieved, former NTSB Vice Chairman Robert T. Francis cautioned in an interview with "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Tuesday.

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The flight was headed to Dusseldorf, Germany, from Barcelona, Spain, when it crashed  near a ski resort in southeastern France, authorities said.

French President Francois Hollande told reporters that no passengers or crew were believed to have survived.

Reports that the jet made a sudden, rapid descent before going down could have multiple explanations, said Francis, the senior NTSB official at major U.S. aviation disasters, including TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, New York, and ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades, both in 1996.

"My first speculation would be some kind of problem with the oxygen system in the aircraft, where they were trying to get down to an altitude where human beings can breathe through the outside air," said Francis, now an aviation safety consultant and policy adviser in private practice.

Whether a desperate dive for breathable air — if that is even what happened — was caused by a hull breach at high altitude or a massive internal systems failure is also unknowable at this stage, said Francis.

"If it was a major, or electrical, kind of problem, that might be part of the reason that they were descending, because that was affecting the oxygen and maybe it was affecting their ability to communicate as well," he said.

The jet that crashed on Tuesday began service in the late 1980s and belonged to what Francis called an "incredibly safe" line comparable to another mainstay of commercial aviation, the Boeing 737.

"They operate everywhere," he said of Airbus A320s. "They're safe and economical."

Francis said it's also possible the plane was on a programmed descent and just came too close to mountainous terrain. But much depends on examining flight data in the moments leading up to the crash.

"And presumably in a situation like this, they will not have problems finding the recorders," Francis said of investigators. "When they get the recorders, they'll have answers to a lot of our questions."

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A sudden loss of breathable air inside a German passenger jet carrying 150 people might explain reports that the aircraft dove almost 32,000 feet in under 10 minutes before crashing in the French Alps on Tuesday, a former National Transportation Safety Board official said.
Robert Francis, germanwings, french alps, crash, plane
447
2015-01-24
Tuesday, 24 March 2015 02:01 PM
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